Royal Mums: The Dark Side Of Birthing The Bloodline

We may think questions of bloodlines and royal heirs seem archaic — calling to mind the time of Henry VIII circling through the women of Europe until one bore him a son. But these concerns have greatly shaped the lives of royal women - especially Princess Diana in the 80s – and they’re still very much present today, as evidenced by Kate Middleton allegedly having to take a fertility test before marrying Prince William, not to mention the revelations Meghan Markle had about the Firm’s interest in her pregnancy. So in the eyes of the Firm, if you can’t continue the bloodline, would you even be allowed in the family? And in the eyes of the public, does that focus on ideal motherhood majorly impact what the cultural influence of royal role models is?


When news broke that Kate Middleton allegedly had to take a fertility test before marrying Prince William, there was a strange cognitive dissonance at play. This is a modern princess who’s supposedly helping bring the monarchy into a new relatable era, yet it’s clear the royal family still measures a woman’s success by her fertility.

Queen Mother: “The hereditary principle already hangs by such a precarious thread.” – The Crown

We may think questions of bloodlines and royal heirs seem archaic — calling to mind the time of Henry VIII circling through the women of Europe until one bore him a son. But these concerns have greatly shaped the lives of royal women - especially Princess Diana in the 80s – and they’re still very much present today, as evidenced by Kate’s test, not to mention the revelations Meghan had about the Firm’s interest in her pregnancy

So in the eyes of the Firm, if you can’t continue the bloodline, would you even be allowed in the family? And in the eyes of the public, does that focus on ideal motherhood majorly impact what the cultural influence of royal role models is? Here’s our take on the royal womb in the 21st century.

A royal family only survives if there are descendants in line to the throne. So the public and the media’s obsession with royal babies is really an obsession with the continuation of this legacy that stretches back hundreds of years – that institution, to many, represents tradition itself and the preservation of the past

Announcer: “The first born of his royal highness the duke and duchess of cambridge, god save the queen!” – Royal Baby Announcement

Even as the family has modernized, there remains a great deal of ceremony around royal babies. There’s the announcement interview, the press covering every aspect of the pregnancy, the vigil outside the hospital when the due date is near, and then eventually the first image of the new family — with a new heir to the throne — waving at their adoring subjects.

With Kate Middleton, this began even before she married into the family. Royal expert Tom Quinn revealed that Kate had to undergo a series of fertility tests prior to getting married to William. “These are always carried out to ensure a future queen is able to have children,” Quinn wrote. “If Kate had not been fertile, there is little doubt the marriage would have been off.”

When she eventually did become pregnant, her pregnancy journey delivered a curveball: she suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, which caused terrible sickness. And this really shaped a wider conversation around pregnancy for that time, drawing more attention to this debilitating condition and the difficulties of morning sickness more broadly.

Zita West: “What’s common for many women and probably for Kate is that if you suffer from this condition the first time round, you’re highly likely to have it the second time round.”—The Telegraph

These stories showed a human side to Kate, and made her seem vulnerable.After she had the baby, though, the messaging seemed to shift – starting with that famous shot of her looking perfectly put together leaving the hospital with her newborn.

Speaking to the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast — her first ever podcast interview — she spoke about the importance of hypnobirthing, and how she was able to “take control” of her labor. There’s a sense that any Royal woman can’t be too vulnerable, and must still maintain a strong and stoic facade.

The treatment Kate was subjected to, Diana also had to go through, with more overt intensity. Royal expert Angela Levin suggested that the main reason Charles chose to marry Diana over Camilla — or maybe more accurately, was forcefully discouraged from marrying Camilla — was because Diana was younger, and so more likely to give him an heir. The press at the time was even obsessed with the idea that Diana was virginal, untouched by any past before she would become a mother. Such was the public fascination with Diana’s fertility tests that spurious rumors abounded about the Doctor who performed the tests implanting a fertilized embryo into his own wife — rumors that persisted way beyond Diana’s death.

Charlotte Dobre: “Sarah was often told by people growing up that she looked really similar to Princess DIana, and I mean like, she does, how uncanny is that resemblance.” — InformOverload

Due to the protectiveness around Diana’s motherly body, it was seen as a huge violation when paparazzi photos of her pregnant in a bikini were published in 1982: the Queen called it “the blackest day in the history of British journalism.”

Meanwhile crazy rumors of her royal womb getting infiltrated have never died down. To this day it’s widely believed that Charles is not Harry’s father, despite Harry and the supposed true father, riding instructor James Hewitt, both categorically stating this would be impossible as Hewitt met Diana after Harry was born. Operation Paget, the 2004 Met Police inquiry into the many theories around Diana’s death, had to disprove, among other things, that she wasn’t pregnant at the time. Even though that baby wouldn’t have had any claim to the throne, the fascination with the royal womb continued.

The obsession with fertility extends to what kind of child the ideal royal woman will provide for the family. And implicit in that is that there is an ideal child the Royals want. Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, was reported to have had an illegitimate child that she was forced to keep secret — and eventually, give up. Even today, the idea of a royal being allowed to have a child out of wedlock and raise them as a royal feels far-fetched. Nowhere was this anxiety about the ‘ideal baby’ more apparent than in claims that the Firm were concerned over the skin color of Meghan and Harry’s baby

Oprah: “There’s a conversation with you.”

Meghan: “With Harry.”

Oprah: “About how dark your baby is going to be?”

Meghan: “Potentially and what that would mean or look like.” – Oprah Royal Interview

Again this comes back to bloodline, and the importance of royal blood. Historically the Royals have married among themselves, pairing up with other royal families and even semi-distant relatives – but Meghan obviously is not from any such line of European rulers. So the fear about Archie’s skin color seems rooted both in racism and in a fear that the royal blood is being diluted — that Meghan’s and Harry’s children would be less Royal.

Similarly, the Queen’s cousins Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, were hidden away from view — and declared legally dead — because they were disabled, and didn’t conform to the image of what a royal should look like. Again the concern was the public perception of the bloodline. Famously there was one royal woman who didn’t have children — Queen Anne, whose nickname ‘The Barren Queen’ referred to the fact that she had seventeen children, none of whom survived — the eldest lived to eleven.

Ironically the only reason Anne became Queen was because fertility issues elsewhere in the family led to her unlikely ascension, but the fact she tried so many times to produce an heir despite her much publicized health issues shows how essential that was to the Queen’s role. The (very loose adaptation) of her life The Favourite underlines the significant emotional trauma these experiences must have inflicted on Queen Anne, who’s depicted as keeping a rabbit in memorial for each child she lost, and acting chaotically, erratically and recklessly as a result of her pain.

Queen Anne: “Each one that dies a little bit of you goes with them.” The Favorite

The question this portrait of an heir-obsessed kingdom raises, though, is: have we really come that far?

We may think of Royalty as a fairytale, but at the end of the day, it’s a job. If there were a job description for a female monarch, then surely at the top of that list would be to produce an heir. And even though there’s two people involved in making a child, it’s women who have their fertility pored over.

Meanwhile, the job of being a royal woman only begins with siring an heir; after that, it’s largely about being a mother, not just in the family, but in the nation as well. We saw this when the Queen died in late 2022 and tributes didn’t just refer to her as a Monarch or a Head of State — they referred to her specifically in familial terms.

Interviewee: “She was the grandmother of the nation, she kept the whole of the commonwealth with stability.” – Sky News Australia

In reality though, as a mother who had to put not only her work but also her country and image as Queen first, her relationships with her actual kids could sometimes be quite complicated, as the Crown explores. While she fulfilled her royal duty by giving birth to four potential heirs, she had a lot less time and concern for their emotional needs and development.

Today, the UK press shows affection for future Queen Catherine by showcasing her virtues as a mom. And since it’s recently shifted to cast Meghan Markle as more of a villain, it’s a lot less interested in any charming details of Meghan’s mom life, instead focusing more on negative family stories like her being estranged from her father

All of this comes back to the idea of the family unit. Princess Diana may have been a thorn in the side of the Firm, but the images of her comforting children and doting on her own children always made her beloved in the eyes of the public. Even the anxiety around royals marrying divorcees speaks to the same issue. Within the traditional family unit, the woman’s role as the mother and the bearer of children is paramount.

Narrator: “Since Kate became a mother in 2013 we’ve watched in awe as she performed her royal duties and charity work all while raising a family.” – Kate, Duchess of Cambridge: Being A Royal Mother

But a woman’s value, and a woman’s womanhood, is not defined solely by her ability to have children, and certainly not by her ability to get pregnant without intervention versus adopting, or fostering, or going through IVF. Meghan’s sharing her experience with miscarriage underscored how fertility challenges are part of so many people’s journeys, and plenty of the most relatable stories around Kate, too, capture the imperfections of parenthood.

While obsessions with royal bloodline will no doubt continue, there’s a need for nuanced conversations about what being a modern royal woman means, and the example that sets for the rest of us.


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